Monday, August 6, 2012

Tulip Portiere

I really cannot stand the French doors in our living room and dining room. They don't stay closed and they don't work with our rugs without chopping quite a bit off the bottom of the doors. They also take up a lot of wall space, which is at quite a premium in this room. These doors probably made a lot more sense when the fireplace was used to supplement the heating on the main floor.

So, I've been thinking about making portiere curtains to hang in those doorways so we can take down the French doors and reclaim the limited wall space.

(We would, of course, retain the doors and stow them in the attic for the next owner. Though, we discovered during the remodel the French doors are not original to our house—the house was originally built with pocket doors.)

Anyway, I ran across this portiere design at Textile Studio's web album and I'm in love. I really wish I could afford to buy a set, but perhaps I can make them. I'd actually need to make four of these panels to span both doorways. I guess I found another project to add to my queue.

Update many hours later: When I was trying to research how to actually make a portiere (to answer questions like whether it was lined, or suspended by rings), I went and dug through a number of period texts. I share the best of them below.

The Complete Home, edited by Clara E. Laughlin. 1912. "Ch. 12: Hangings, Bric-a-Brac, Books and Pictures," pp. 250-2.

...Figured portieres with plain walls, and vice versa, are the rule, the coloring blending with both floor and walls and coming between the two in density. Again the neutral tint comes to the rescue if difficulty in matching is met. 
There is almost an embarrassment of riches in portiere materials in plain and figured velours, woolen brocades, soft tapestries, furniture satins, damasks, velvets, etc., but we are learning the true art value of the simpler denims (plain and fancy), reps, cotton tapestries, rough, heavy linens, and monk's cloth—a kind of jute—for door hangings. The plain goods in dull, soft greens, blues, and browns, with conventional designs in applique or outlining, are not only inexpensive but artistic to a high degree, and are easily fashioned by home talent. Plain strips, too, are used for trimming, and stencil work, but the latter requires rather more artistic ability than most of us possess. Whatever the material, it must be soft enough to draw all the way back and leave a full opening, but not so thin as to be flimsy and stringy. The portiere is either shirred over the pole or hung from it by hook safety pins or rings sewed on at intervals of four inches. 
Double-faced goods have the hems on the side on which they will show least, with any extra length turned over as a valance on the same side. The finished curtain should hang one-inch from the floor and will gradually stretch until it just escapes the proper length. Single-faced materials are lined to harmonize with the room which receives the wrong side. Lengthwise stripes give a long, narrow effect, while crosswise stripes give an apparent additional width, and plain mateials seem to increase the size of a doorway. Rods may be either of a wood corresponding with the other woodwork, or of brass, with rings, sockets, and brackets of the same material, the brass rod to be an inch in diameter and the wooden one-inches or more and set inside the jambs.
Portieres are also of service in softening the opening of a large bay window, making a cozy corner, or cutting off an awkward length of hall. When a doorway is very high it is better to carry the portiere to within a foot or so of the top, leaving the opening unfilled, or supplying a simple grille of wood harmonizing with the wood of the door. A pretty fashion is to introduce into this space a shelf on which to place pieces of brass or pottery. Beaded, bamboo, and rope affairs are neither draperies nor curtains, graceful, useful nor ornamental, and are consequently not to be considered.
Men of science may cry "Down with draperies!" —but we members of that choicer cult known as domestic science stand loyally by them, for though in draperies there may be microbes, there is also largess of coziness and geniality.

The Furnishing of a Modest Home by Fred Hamilton Daniels, 1908. "Ch. 4: The Walls and the Floors," pp. 56-8.

The Portieres
The portiere had its origin in the desire to bar out draughts of air or noise. Probably later, it was discovered that portieres often-times serve to soften the lines of the woodwork. From the nature of the service expected of them it should be seen at once that they should be hung upon rings so that they may be easily moved. They should not be swathed about a pole (as if the pole were suffering from tonsilitis), thus rendering their moving aside a matter calling for a step ladder. Portieres made from ropes, beads, bamboo, shells, spools, buttons, or string beans serve no purpose, and merely illustrate the craving for novelty associated with an untrained mind.
With a figured wall paper it is well to use plain portieres, as the design of the paper can seldom be repeated in the portiere. With plain paper we may have a figured portiere. The best designs are never those which come by the yard, except in plain goods, but such designs as are prepared for a portiere only. A figured cloth cannot be so designed as to be equally suitable for a chair back, a dress, a necktie, and a portiere. Various uses require varied and individual designs. A portiere hangs in folds. If it has a pattern, the design of the pattern should not be abruptly distorted at every fold. This happens when the pattern is of large, bold curves. Hence patterns of small size, or patterns with their dominant lines moving either in a vertical or a horizontal direction are least affected. In fact, such patterns are sometimes improved by a varied and rhythmic spacing which comes from the folding of the cloth. Nature gives us similar examples of a varied rhythm in the spacing of the vertical tree trunks of the woods; in the appearance of the brook as it winds across the meadows, now seen and now gone only to reappear again, we have the rhythm of the horizontal pattern on the portiere. 

A satisfactory solution of the design can be secured by purchasing one of the hand-embroidered portieres made in crafts shops, or by copying a satisfactory design from a reliable book or magazine, and working it out in worsted one's self. As for the material, silk or satin, from its very nature, is not so good as a rougher, heavier cloth, free from sheen and made to wear. In color, the portiere should repeat the dominant color of the room. Harmony of color consists in agreement of color.

The Homemaker: Her Science, by Carlotta Norton Smith. 1905. "Ch. 15: Curtains & Hangings," pp. 198-99. 

PORTIERES: The portiere may be used in two ways. It may be merely a break between the color scheme of one room and that of another, or it may be the means of separating one from another when desired. In the first case, the curtains are stationary, are joined at the top, and are looped back. In the second, they slide on poles, the rings being furnished with tiny rollers which play in a groove of the pole. 
A portiere should be dark rather than light, and of sufficiently heavy material to hang without disturbance by any ordinary breeze. The rules which apply to the designs of carpets apply also to those of hangings. The scheme should be quiet and subdued, and be more a play of color than a marked pattern. There may be a little more boldness of line and contrast of color, since the portiere hangs in folds which break the continuity of line and mass of color. 
When the city house is occupied in the summer, the portieres may be replaced with white muslin hangings to match the windows. They must be tied back, however, or they will be only too faithful indicators of the slightest draught.


  1. Thank you so much for the tips on portiers! I shall henceforth take that choicest cult, domestic science seriously and never attempt to use string beans as a room divider. ;-)

  2. Me too! Though, I had been planning on using my yellowish-white linen for the curtains, like the attached photo, but now I'm not so sure I should. I may have to go for green. =)

  3. I think the portier you selected is gorgeous.

  4. "Portières made from ropes, beads, bamboo, shells, spools, buttons, or string beans serve no purpose, and merely illustrate the craving for novelty associated with an untrained mind."

    ROTFL!! And yes, I have to agree-- Save the beaded curtains for the Casbah. Though come to think of it, my previous owners did have a bead portière (new word for me-- thanks!) hung in the doorway at the bottom of the steps to the 3rd floor.

  5. Oh, look what I just found over at the Old House Web! A little Craftsman vs. Victorian action, anyone?

  6. Oh how funny--a bead portiere. Sort of pretty, but I'll stick with fabric! Thanks for sharing the link. =)

  7. Gosh, I didn't even know there what portieres were until now! I say if it they'll makes your home more functional then go for it!

  8. I love these and they match my room perfectly. Where did you find them?